Maryland Smith Experts Identify 10 COVID-Era Trends Here to Stay

women, teamwork, team

From healthcare to banking, the coronavirus pandemic has changed much about the way society lives and works. And some of those changes are here to stay. Experts at the University of Maryland’s Robert H. Smith School of Business Maryland Smith explore a few of them.

“In the healthcare sector, two technologies, one old and one new, will remain sticky post-COVID: Telemedicine, and Artificial Intelligence (AI). Pandemic restrictions and a growing patient volume necessitated a quick pivot from in-person healthcare visits to ones enabled by telemedicine. Now patients are more comfortable with telemedicine and providers are learning to use it more effectively. This can reduce costs, mitigate inefficiencies, and perhaps make healthcare more accessible for vulnerable and underserved populations. AI, meanwhile, may enable greater leverage of one of healthcare’s scarcest resources: clinical knowledge and expertise, while supporting efficiencies and improving quality and consistency in care delivery.”

Ritu Agarwal, senior associate dean, distinguished university professor, Robert H. Smith Dean’s Chair of Information Systems and co-director of the Center for Health Information and Decision Systems (CHIDS).

“Virtual meetings are a trend – or a way of life – that is here to stay. And here’s the best news: Students who have been learning online since March 2020 are better prepared than any other graduating class. They navigate online platforms with great fluency, know how to virtually present team and individual contributions, and maintain composure in the face of inevitable technology glitches. This group of students will usher in a new work/life balance paradigm, in which coming home from work is as simple as shutting the door to the home office.”
Mary Beth Furst, associate clinical professor of marketing.

“Home computers are now handling a significant portion of work-related activities, and that will likely continue long beyond the pandemic. This change creates a cybersecurity challenge for organizations, which must figure out how to maintain the same level of cybersecurity in the new, varied work environment. Meeting this challenge likely means spending more on cybersecurity. Thus, organizations need an economic framework from which to answer the following question: If more spending on cybersecurity activities is required, how much more is appropriate? The Gordon-Loeb Model provides such a framework.”

Lawrence A. Gordon, EY Alumni Professor of Managerial Accounting and Information Assurance, and creator, with Maryland Smith’s Martin P. Loeb, of the Gordon-Loeb model.

“Increased use of e-bikes and scooters. People flocked to e-bikes and scooters as substitutes for public transportation during the pandemic so that they could socially distance, and the trend might well continue. Often with these services, as with any new technology, getting people started is the hard part. The COVID-era convenience trend might finally bring these services into the mainstream, like Uber and delivery services, making transportation more environmentally sustainable.”

Ashish Kabra, assistant professor in decision, operations and information technologies.

“A big trend will be more food preparation and dining at home. Limited availability of dining out opportunities during the pandemic forced many people to learn how to prepare food for home consumption. Sales of cooking equipment have increased and substantial learning about how to use these appliances has occurred. This won’t be forgotten once COVID-19 is in check – nor will the smaller credit card bills many are receiving, during months with fewer restaurant visits. Once COVID-19 passes, far more dining will take place at home. And who knows? Maybe we won’t be afraid to invite people over for dinner rather than meeting to go out.” 

Charles E. Olson, professor of the practice in logistics, business and public policy.

“There’s been a major shift to online and mobile banking during the pandemic – and it will stay long after the crisis recedes. Brick-and-mortar branches have been declining in numbers for years, given better security of and ease of access to online and mobile banking apps. Banks have invested heavily in this technology over the years, and it appears to be paying off as these companies look to wring as much cost out of their operations as possible by ditching high-cost branch offices.” 

Clifford Rossi, professor of the practice in finance.

“Artificial intelligence (AI) has been making rapid progress in the business world and society, even prior to the pandemic. The COVID-19 crisis has only strengthened that trend, as companies seek to reduce human contact. Consumers also are seeking to reduce human contact, leading them to prefer doing as much business as possible online. Online business is profitable for companies only if AI can be used to handle the customer interface. That is most feasible today for standardized, routine interactions, but the pandemic provides even more incentive for companies to build AI systems that can handle more complex human interactions. The result of the pandemic will be an acceleration of the implementation of AI for customer contacts.”

Roland Rust, Distinguished University Professor and the David Bruce Smith Chair in Marketing at the Robert H. Smith School of Business. Also, executive director of the Center for Excellence in Service.

“Business communication was forever changed with the COVID-19 pandemic. In-person meetings around a conference table were flipped overnight to video screen engagement from kitchens and home offices. The ability to privately connect with a colleague as you walk down the hall vanished without warning. While we will eventually get back to in-person conference room meetings, this new way of virtually meeting is here to stay. Video meetings enable a visual communication connection that allows meeting participants to read facial expressions and reactions – things that don’t always convey in phone conversations. Companies have used virtual meetings for groups in the past, but the COVID-19 era has brought virtual meetings to the personal one-on-one meeting level.”

Christine M. Schaaf, marketing lecturer.

“It’s the final nail in the coffin for the antiquated idea that employees are more productive in-person than remote. Office space in many metro areas has become prohibitively expensive. Even before the pandemic, several large employers in the D.C. region were downsizing offices and telling employees to expect more remote work. This trend will happily also require a shift toward evaluating the quality of employee output, rather than the quantity of hours spent in cubicles. In retrospect, it’s odd that anyone ever thought that the benefit of seeing coworkers’ faces in 3D instead of 2D would justify requiring people to dress in a suit, drive 40 minutes in traffic, pack and reheat their own food, and use public restrooms all day. What’s ‘productive’ about that?” 

Nick Seybert, associate professor of accounting and information assurance.

“The ‘order online and in-store/curbside pickup’ model, which became prevalent during the pandemic, will continue its prominence long into the future. Retailers have ramped up their e-commerce capabilities in response to surging online demand. The challenge they face is how to deliver the enormous amount of online orders to consumers’ homes, the so-called last mile of e-commerce. Many have turned to offering free in-store/curbside pickup as a way to flatten the shipping curve and shorten the gap between ordering and receiving products. This strategy is especially effective for brick-and-mortar retailers who are looking to scale up e-commerce, because they can utilize existing stores as fulfillment centers. As consumers’ demand for online shopping continues to grow beyond the pandemic, this fulfillment model is also likely to become more popular.” 

Jie Zhang, the Harvey Sanders Fellow of Retail Management and professor of marketing.